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A Relentless Structure

Rohini Mokashi Punekar

By Joseph Macwan Translated from Gujarati by Rita Kothari
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 240, Rs. 295.00


The significance of Joseph Macwan’s Angaliyat, translated into English as The Stepchild, lies in its moving presentation of the relentless and undying structure of caste hierarchy in Indian society. Even as the 1935 to 1960 backdrop of the novel shows the transfer of power at some level, at the level of equations within rural society, traditional loci of power are strengthened rather than weakened with independence. Published in 1987 as a part of the wave of dalit writing that came forth after Gujarat’s anti-reservation riots of 1981 and 85, Angaliyat is perhaps the first dalit novel to be written in any language. The novel presents a complex web of pre- and post-Independence Indian politics: exploitation on the basis of caste is reinforced by local upper caste Congress officials, and the rule of the law manipulated by vested interests, the whole driven by the conflicting ideologies of Gandhi and radical identity of protest that Ambedkar offered which is dimly apprehended by the dalit community of the village.   The novel dramatizes the struggle of one dalit community, the vankars or the weavers who come under the list of scheduled castes in Gujarat. It is an eventful novel, relying on dialogue rather than description, succession of incident than reflection for its impact. Teeha and Valji are neighbours and inseparable friends; they are bound by work, business and affection into a single unit of love and loyalty. Valji and his wife, Kanku, want to see Teeha married.   The novel, which is a straightforward linear narration, is set into motion by the event that will monitor the rest of the story. This event takes place in the neighbouring village of Shilapaar where the two young men have gone to auction the cloth which they have together woven. A young woman, Methi, belonging to their own caste is harassed by the upper caste young men of her own village. Teeha jumps to her defence and so thoroughly vanquishes the Patel youth, that the upper caste Patel community is humiliated and swears revenge on Teeha in particular and the vankars in general. The routine caste exploitation is magnified and viciously sharpened. The story moves forward through a rapid succession of events: Valji and Dana, his cousin, try to abduct Methi to Teeha and their village at her own wish. This proves to be a terrible miscalculation, since the trust they repose in the upper caste mukhi of their village, Ranchchod ...

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